The White Rabbit: “I’m late!  I’m late!  For a very impor­tant date!”

Alice:  “Curiouser and curiouser!”

This entry of the Reel Classics is a bit dif­fer­ent from past films—it is a well-known ani­mat­ed fea­ture from the stu­dios of Walt Disney.  Alice In Wonderland has long been one of my favorite Disney films start­ing from the time I first saw it as a young boy.  Over the years, I have seen it on TV and in the­aters, shared it (via VHS) with my kids, and return to it on occa­sion for my own escape into the fan­ta­sy world estab­lished by Lewis Carroll. 

Disney’s film is an adap­ta­tion of the two Alice adven­tures writ­ten by Lewis Carroll–“Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” (1865) and “Through The Looking Glass” (1871).   The con­cept of Alice orig­i­nat­ed when Lewis Carroll was enter­tain­ing the three daugh­ters of a friend with his sto­ry­telling.  The char­ac­ter “Alice” was inspired by one of the daugh­ters, Alice Liddell.  She loved the sto­ries and asked him to write them down on paper.  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was pub­lished three years lat­er with beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions done by John Tenniel.

An illustration from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”

The film is full of inter­est­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters.  It begins with Alice in a park lis­ten­ing to her old­er sis­ter read­ing from a his­to­ry book—trying to edu­cate young Alice.  Alice is much more intrigued by her pet cat, Dinah, and with the nature sur­round­ing her.  While gaz­ing about her, she spots White Rabbit, dressed in a jack­et and hat and hold­ing a watch.  The rab­bit is run­ning and wor­ried about being late for an engage­ment and dis­ap­pears down a rab­bit hole.  Alice fol­lows the rab­bit into the hole and comes to a door with a talk­ing door knob.  She is too large to get through the door, so the door knob advis­es her to drink from the bot­tle on the table.  She does so and shrinks in size, enabling her to get through the door.  And so the adven­ture begins. 

In this new and fas­ci­nat­ing world, Alice meets a host of odd and inter­est­ing char­ac­ters, includ­ing the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Smoking Caterpillar, Dodo, and the Queen of Hearts.  She attends a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, plays cro­quet with the Queen, and has var­i­ous inter­ac­tions with the Cheshire Cat and the Smoking Caterpillar.  While in Wonderland, she dis­cov­ers a mush­room that will make her big or make her small—a dis­cov­ery that ben­e­fits her in her adventures. 

Walt Disney was intrigued with the sto­ry­line and, as ear­ly as 1933, was look­ing at doing a fea­ture-length live-action and ani­mat­ed film star­ring the vet­er­an actress of the silent film era, Mary Pickford.  However, the focus shift­ed to Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs and the project was put on hold.  In 1939 a sto­ry­line was put togeth­er by Disney’s writ­ers, but he was not hap­py with the result and, again, the project was put off while work pro­ceed­ed on oth­er ani­mat­ed fea­tures.  The film was final­ly com­plet­ed and Disney uti­lized the new medi­um of tele­vi­sion to pro­mote it.  One Hour In Wonderland aired on Christmas Day in 1950 pro­mot­ing the film.  It was released to the­aters in 1951.

There are a host of known actors doing the voic­es of the char­ac­ters in the film.  Ed Wynn was the Mad Hatter, and the char­ac­ter was drawn to look like Ed Wynn.  Sterling Holloway por­trayed the Cheshire Cat, Jerry Colona was the March Hare and J. Pat O’Malley did the voic­es of the Walrus, the Carpenter, as well as both Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.  If the names don’t sound famil­iar, check them out — I am pret­ty sure you will rec­og­nize the faces.  A new­com­er por­trayed Alice—Kathryn Beaumont.  She was just ten years old when she was cho­sen to play the part.  She also pro­vid­ed a num­ber of live-action scenes for the artists to copy her actions from.  Kathryn Beaumont lat­er por­trayed the part of Wendy Darling in Disney’s Peter Pan in 1953.

Unfortunately,  Alice in Wonderland did not do as well at the box office as Disney had hoped.  It made $2.4 mil­lion at the box office but had cost $3 mil­lion to pro­duce.  He was very dis­ap­point­ed and decid­ed to run the film on his tele­vi­sion show “The Magical World of Disney” in 1954—hoping to gen­er­ate new inter­est.  His hope did come to pass, but not until the six­ties.  At that time, Disney learned that this film had become the most pop­u­lar rental film on col­lege cam­pus­es and with pri­vate indi­vid­u­als.  It was becom­ing a “cult clas­sic” with the young gen­er­a­tion of the six­ties, helped along by the music and lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” 

One pill makes you larg­er
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that moth­er gives you
Don’t do any­thing at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chas­ing rab­bits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smok­ing cater­pil­lar
Has giv­en you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small

When the men on the chess­board
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mush­room
And your mind is mov­ing low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know

When log­ic and pro­por­tion
Have fall­en slop­py dead
And the White Knight is talk­ing back­wards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dor­mouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head

Disney decid­ed to re-release the film in 1974 and it grossed $3.5 mil­lion at that time.  It was lat­er released on VHS and DVD and today is viewed as one of Disney’s best ani­mat­ed features.

Frame from the movie Alice in Wonderland

There are many oth­er live-action ver­sions of Alice in Wonderland, includ­ing the 2010 release direct­ed by Tim Burton star­ring Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway.  A radio adap­ta­tion of the Disney film was broad­cast on the “Lux Radio Theater” on Christmas Eve 1951 with Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, and Jerry Colona.

Alice in Wonderland is filled with music and songs and received an Oscar nom­i­na­tion for best music, scor­ing of a musi­cal.    The title song, “Alice In Wonderland,” was lat­er record­ed by jazz musi­cian Dave Brubeck and became a jazz standard. 

The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) rates Alice In Wonderland at 7.4 out of 10.  On Rotten Tomatoes, the crit­ic’s score is 84%, and the audi­ence score is 78%.  My per­son­al rat­ing would be much high­er.  I enjoyed this movie when I was a child, a col­lege stu­dent, a father of young chil­dren, and ear­li­er this week.  It is a won­der­ful “trip” into a world of won­der and fan­ta­sy that can be enjoyed by all ages. 

I looked at var­i­ous stream­ing sites to see if any offered it for free.  I found none, but the Clark County Public Library has a copy of the DVD. 

Be watch­ing for the next edi­tion of Reel Classics, and enjoy the trail­er below.

  • Ron grew up in Southeast Baltimore, spent three and a half years liv­ing in the High Desert in California, and came to Winchester when his VW Beetle broke down here on a cross-coun­try dri­ve to Vermont. He has lived here and worked as a social work­er since 1973. Though he retired in 2013, he remains active as a com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teer on var­i­ous boards, coali­tions, and com­mit­tees. His pas­sions include the woods and nature, music, books, and clas­sic movies (espe­cial­ly Laurel & Hardy).